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Indonesia Orders Tighter Social Restrictions to Battle COVID-19

Tia Asmara, Hadi Azmi, Noah Lee and Pimuk Rakkanam
Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok
2020-03-30
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An Indonesian police vehicle sprays disinfectant amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Surabaya, March 30, 2020.
An Indonesian police vehicle sprays disinfectant amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Surabaya, March 30, 2020.
AFP

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered tougher and widespread social restrictions on Monday to stem the spread of COVID-19, amid warnings from health experts that the government’s current intervention policies could be setting the stage for more than 140,000 deaths by mid-May.

Indonesia has the highest COVID-19 death toll among Southeast Asian countries, but authorities had so far ruled out so-called “lockdowns,” saying social distancing and travel restrictions were enough to contain the virus in the vast, decentralized archipelago nation of 260 million.

“I'm seeking large-scale social restrictions, stricter and more disciplined and effective physical distancing,” Jokowi said at the start of his cabinet meeting. “And this needs to be accompanied by civil emergency measures.”

Indonesia recorded 129 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 1,414, with 122 deaths, the Health Ministry said.

A study commissioned by Indonesia’s National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) made public on Friday said the nation needed strong government intervention to curb COVID-19-related deaths to 11,000.

Its modeling suggested that under a mild intervention scenario, Indonesia could see the death toll exceeding 144,000 from an estimated 1.5 million cases by May, according to the study.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at University of Indonesia who worked on the study, described measures currently taken by Indonesia as mild intervention.

“These are only approximate figures and we hope this won’t happen. Therefore, we are calling for stronger government intervention,” Pandu told BenarNews. “We still have time.”

Jakarta has been the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan called the city’s situation “worrying,” with hundreds of positive cases including 81 health workers in 30 hospitals.

Government statistics from Monday showed 698 confirmed infections and 74 deaths in the capital city.

But Anies suggested that some of 283 people buried in the capital in March could have been victims of the virus. “[T]hey had not been tested, or were tested but the results were still pending when they died,” he said.

“I have instructed community leaders to monitor residents who are vulnerable to contracting COVID with underlying conditions. If there are elderly people living alone, they must be accompanied,” he said.

Jakarta and some provinces have closed schools, shut down entertainment centers and ordered businesses to allow employees to work from home.

Officials have also urged Indonesians not to return to their hometowns in May to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the Muslim fasting month, which is expected to start on April 23.

Indonesians wear facemasks as a precaution against the COVID-19 outbreak during obligatory Friday prayers at a mosque in Surabaya, capital of East Java province, March 20, 2020. [AFP]
Indonesians wear facemasks as a precaution against the COVID-19 outbreak during obligatory Friday prayers at a mosque in Surabaya, capital of East Java province, March 20, 2020. [AFP]

90 boarding school students among Malaysia cases

In neighboring Malaysia, health authorities confirmed 156 more coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total number of infections to 2,626, almost half of whom were linked to an international Islamic gathering held near Kuala Lumpur last month.

Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said 90 students of a Muslim boarding school had contracted COVID-19, in a cluster of cases “most probably” linked to the gathering.

“Initially when we went in, there were 71 positive cases, when we went in again today it spiked to 90 positive cases in total at the school and one outside,” Noor told reporters, referring to the Maahad Tahfiz An-Nabawiyyah residential school in Hulu Langat, a district in Selangor state.

Malaysia announced on Monday that it would enforce tighter restrictions starting April 1. The nation took the move after police arrested more than 800 people on Sunday for flouting curbs on movement aimed at blocking the pandemic’s spread.

Defense Minister Ismail Sabri told reporters that the enhanced restrictions would include limiting operating hours for grocery shops, supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Worldwide, at least 37,000 people have died and more than 775,000 have been infected by the coronavirus, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Thai Deep South region extends lockdown

In Thailand’s restive Deep South, authorities extended a lockdown on Monday to contain the spread of COVID-19, as confirmed cases in the predominantly Muslim border region topped 100 and a second local person died of the disease, authorities said.

“After a rapid increase in infections, to contain the spread and unfavorable factors, the provinces need to adopt strict measures,” according to the lockdown order sent to Deep South officials.

The Deep South, which has seen years of violence from a separatist insurgency, borders Malaysia and encompasses the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, as well as four districts in neighboring Songkhla.

The lockdown allows only official travel and entry and exit of supply trucks. Violators could face up to two years in prison.

Thailand reported 136 new cases Monday, bringing its tally of infections to 1,524, with nine fatalities. Under the Buddhist-majority nation’s state of emergency, which began on Thursday, about 400 checkpoints had been set up to screen for COVID-19.

While Thailand’s restrictions on movement have not been as sweeping as in countries such as the Philippines, it has enacted stronger measures to combat the pandemic, including closing bars and shutting down schools.

Also on Monday, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha approved 1.5 billion baht (about $46 million) to buy medical supplies and equipment from China, Dr. Sukhum Kanchanapimai, permanent secretary for the Public Health Ministry, told reporters.

“We could immediately import 400,000 pieces … and can distribute them nationwide,” Sukhum said.

Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand contributed to this report.

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